‘Mad Honey’ – Jodi Picoult

Mad Honey is a real thing. It’s caused by bees using pollen from specific plants and the honey they make can cause nausea and hallucinations. It has seemingly nothing to do with the story, but bees are a recurring theme – primarily because the mother of one of the characters is a beekeeper, but also because of the things we have learned from bees about gender and how the bee communities work (hard not to see the links when they seem to be mentioned all the time).

This was a book that I meant to read on its release in 2022, and didn’t get round to. I was intrigued by the details we’re given in the synopsis about a mother whose son is accused of the murder of his girlfriend and the introduction to the story certainly got the book off to a good start. I found myself, certainly to start off with, confused by the different timelines to the narratives of Lily and Asher. It does come to make sense – and was an interesting approach – but it did come to feel that this had been done deliberately to make the details that are shared about Lily seem unnecessarily shocking rather than an integral element of the character’s life.

While I understand why some of the seemingly crucial details about the characters are not revealed immediately, it did lead to me feeling rather ambushed. Perhaps this is deliberate, and certainly some of the details we are given should not matter. The fact that they have come to seem so important in the eyes of some reviewers only highlights to me what a long way there is to go in respect to the social issues explored in the book.

The focus on Asher’s mum, how her past has influenced her perception of events/people and the shifting dynamic between her and her son was at the heart of the book. Not an easy read for so many reasons, and much of this made me so so sad.

‘You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight – Kalynn Bayron

Pure pulp, and I loved it! 

If you know horror, you know the rules. For Charity, her role as the final girl in a simulation based on a well-known slasher movie has clearly defined elements. Playing her part well keeps the money rolling in, and prevents her having to spend time at home. It helps that she keeps finding ways to refine her craft to give the guests the terrifying thrill they seek.

Unfortunately, this season things don’t go quite to plan.

Charity is struggling to keep the act going as three of the staff have left without warning. There’s threats from a woman who lives in the woods and the local sheriff is unconcerned by their reports. It’s down to Charity and her friends to try to survive the night when they realise they really are playing the game.

From start to finish this was pacy, full of knowing nods to the genre and included a lot of gore. The whole story behind it was even more creepy, and I found myself surprisingly fond of Charity’s final opportunity to resolve matters.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this before publication.

‘The House in the Cerulean Sea’ -T.J. Klune

I’ve heard so much about this book over the last few years, but never quite felt like picking it up. What a fool! There may be an element of preaching to the converted, but this was such a beautiful story about finding your place and learning to accept difference.

Linus Barker is a rather uninspiring character. He lives alone with his cat, spends his days working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth reviewing cases and monitoring the work of orphanages under their remit, and he has started eating salads in an attempt to shift his growing spare tire. When he is called to the upper floor by Extremely Upper Management nobody knows what to expect, but it begins a new chapter in Linus’s life.

He is charged with visiting Marsyas Island and reviewing the work taking place under the tutelage of Arthur Parnassus. Linus is taken aback by his first meeting with the six dangerous children, but comes to see them as individuals with their own redeeming qualities. 

While I found myself taken in by the messages about acceptance and desperately wanting everyone to read this so they can see the dangers of prejudice, I was completely entranced by the six children – all highly entertaining – and the adults surrounding them. A love story, a reminder to be strong and fight for those who need our protection and a plea to have the courage to love those who accept you for who you are and to enjoy family where you find it.

‘Imogen, Obviously’ – Becky Albertalli

Due for release in May 2023, thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this in advance of publication.

There’s no doubt that this is a very personal story. Albertalli offers some insight into her own situation before the book opens, but the whole book examines issues around identity and the process of working out your sexual orientation.

Our main character is Imogen, someone who has always thought of herself as an ally. Her sister is gay, her best friend is gay and they’ve always been so certain of their identity. Imogen has always thought of herself as straight – and her friend Gretchen is quick to affirm this – so is somewhat taken aback when she goes to visit her best friend Lili at college and finds herself falling for another girl.

From start to finish this felt rather earnest. There’s no doubt that Imogen is prone to overthinking and while those around her are generally supportive, it’s also easy to see how sometimes those around us can also be part of the problem. I found Gretchen infuriating, and spent the majority of the time feeling hopeful that Imogen would get the space to work things out for herself.

‘Last Night at the Telegraph Club’ – Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a story of forbidden love, set at a time fraught with danger for numerous reasons. It tells the story of Lily, a young Chinese American, and her growing understanding of what it will take for her to be happy.

Set in 1950’s America, the attention to detail seems thorough. Against a backdrop of fear at the threat of Communism, acknowledging a difference such as being homosexual would seem subversive. Set against this rigid and conventional background we watch Lily gradually realise she has feelings for girls, find a safe space and love interest but then be placed in a situation that forces her to consider her duty to her family.

As a love story, this had appeal. However, Kath was a vague character who only really seemed to be there as a catalyst for Lily to figure out her feelings. The side characters we meet at The Telegraph Club were intriguing, but also only there to offer hope for Lily and to highlight the bigotry surrounding her. The pacing of the book was frustrating, with things taking a long time to get established and then feeling glossed over at the end. However, I’m sure this will still win its fans.

‘Friday I’m in Love’ – Camryn Garrett

Mahalia is used to trying to do things herself. Being the only child of a single mother, she’s accustomed to having to watch the pennies and to plan ahead. After her best friend’s Sweet Sixteen party Mahalia is determined to have her own party, to celebrate her coming out.
We follow Mahalia as she struggles through work and school, trying to save enough to have her party. Things conspire against her, but she tries her hardest to continue to plan. Though this is the main focal point of the plot, the real focus was on how Mahalia grows as she tries to develop her understanding of herself.
When Mahalia develops a crush on a girl she spots at a party the story shifts into focusing on her developing awareness of herself and her feelings. The girl, Siobhan, is an Irish student who also happens to be dating Danny, the one boy Mahalia seems immune to (with some reason we learn).
Over the course of the story the friendship develops. This puts Mahalia’s existing friendship under a little strain, but you just know that these characters have each others’ backs…whatever it might look like.
I felt, on occasion, that some of the characters were presented rather superficially but I liked the positivity surrounding her relationship with Siobhan.


‘She is a Haunting’ – Trang Than Tran

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this prior to publication. It was a very different reading experience for me, focusing as it did on Vietnamese culture and it required quite a lot of focus to keep track of who was who at key moments. There were some formatting issues which leads me to believe some elements were rather lost.

Even after finishing, I’ll confess to not being entirely sure how to talk about this book. It was truly a book that unsettled me and the content definitely made me a little squeamish on occasion. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, but it evoked such a reaction that I feel it’s a book I may return to.

The basic story focuses on Jade being manipulated into spending the summer with her father in Vietnam so that he will support her university costs. Upon arrival, her discomfort in this environment is evident. However, little details given then indicate that her discomfort may have a more supernatural element. Her father’s home seems to be haunted.

As we follow Jade through this experience, we see that her relationships with family are at the heart of the story. The haunting also serves as a timely way to introduce talk of colonisation and to explore attitudes to race and culture. While I have to say I know little of this era/place, it was certainly a fascinating read.


‘Becoming Ted’ – Matt Cain

I always take it as a sign of a great read when I’ve never read anything by the author beforehand and then find myself checking out their other titles and thinking about reading them before I’ve finished the book in question. This was my first Matt Cain read, and I’m so grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this. It certainly won’t be my last!

A coming-of-age story with a difference. Tender, heartwarming and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, Becoming Ted is a story that needs to be told.

Ted works in his family’s ice-cream business. He hates ice-cream. He has been happily (he thinks) married for decades and is shocked when his husband says he’s found another man and wants to split up. Such a period of upheaval would derail most people, but this begins a period of growth where Ted reflects on himself and his relationships before starting to live a life true to himself.

We follow Ted as he learns what makes him happy, finds a new love and works out what to do about his family and the pressure he feels to stay in a business he hates.

There’s a large assortment of characters, a thoughtful examination of attitudes to homosexuality over time and an interesting insight into the process of drag. Occasionally some events/interactions seem a little contrived, but this was a story that it’s hard not to open your heart to. Is it wrong to say I’d love to see this as a movie?

‘Pumpkinheads’ – Rainbow Rowell

I’m very aware that as someone who doesn’t read graphic novels, I may be missing something here. Certainly, reviews of this are glowing…so perhaps I’m just not quite the right reader for this book right now.

The story focuses on Deja and Josiah, friends who spend every Halloween working in the same pumpkin patch. For the last three years Josiah has had a crush on the girl who works in the fudge shop, but he’s never spoken to her. On their last night, Deja gets it into her head that she will help Josiah to get his girl.

We follow them round the pumpkin patch as they try to find the mystery girl. What becomes clear very early on is that these two are great together…so I wonder why it takes so long for there to be any acknowledgment of their evident mutual attraction.

I liked the colour scheme for this and the pictures had a certain cuteness to them, but the whole thing just felt a little twee. The characters could have made things a whole lot easier for themselves by actually having a conversation. On the whole, this won’t be enough to convince me that graphic novels are the way to go.


‘Here’s to Us’ – Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I feel awful as I loved book one so much, and this just felt like overkill.

Ben and Arthur are not together, they each have new boyfriends (of sorts) and they are moving on with things…and then events conspire to have both of them back in New York for the summer. They meet up to show how much they’ve moved on – and it’s painfully clear that they haven’t at all.

The majority of the book sets them up on a number of double dates or meet-ups with new partners and friends, but each occasion offers a reminder of their past in some way. Nobody calls them out on it, but it’s pretty obvious that each is holding something back because they haven’t quite got over their past.

For most of the book it felt like I was reading a collection of scenes rather than a cohesive narrative. Things shift into predictable territory near the end, and I’m afraid that I found myself thankful that it would all draw to a close soon. Much as I wanted to love this, I couldn’t help but feel this book stemmed from a desire to do-over decisions made in the past, which were made for a reason. Sometimes it’s best not to look back!